Freedom of speech dying from regulation

From ‘Bloggers want new media rules revoked’, 9 June 2013, article by Tessa Wong, Sunday Times

A group of bloggers plans to start a campaign to lobby MPs and seek a dialogue with the Government for the withdrawal of new licensing rules for news websites….The group, calling itself Free My Internet, announced its plans to reporters after a three-hour protest rally yesterday at Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park.

A total of 15 bloggers and editors of websites such as The Online Citizen (TOC), Public House and TR Emeritus (TRE) spoke at the rally before a crowd estimated by the organisers to be between 2,000 and 2,500.

…Last Thursday, more than 150 sites took part in a 24-hour online blackout, featuring a black page with the words: Free My Internet. The same words were emblazoned on the black T-shirts worn by the speakers at yesterday’s rally.

At the end of the protest, a mock tombstone with the words, “RIP Freedom of Speech. Death by Regulation. Died in 2013″ was brought to the stage. People from the crowd laid flowers before it.

You’ll be missed dearly, Freedom

“Freedom of speech” didn’t go down quietly;  it was a sudden, brutal killing. But it seems like our old friend Freedom has the habit of rising from the dead instead of ‘resting in peace’, before supposedly perishing again and again. It ‘died’ when the government made peaceful demonstrations illegal without a permit, when bloggers were issued lawyers’ letters, when cartoonists got arrested for sedition — all this before MDA’s bomb-dropping and the black T-shirts. I believe there remains some flicker of life in Freedom as I write, otherwise guys in intimidating suits, shades and Bluetooth earpieces would come barging into my house and confiscate my laptop and POSB savings book the moment I click ‘Publish’.

Someone once remarked that MDA’s licensing of news sites is ‘overkill’, but it appears that some FMI supporters are taking a leaf out of the same book and responding in kind. There is always a tendency for exaggeration and Les Miserables levels of theatrics in any form of protest or rally, and I’m not sure if getting carried away by raw emotions and blowing up a call for regulation rethink into alarmist mass culling of our ‘rights’ is the way to do it or if it merely justifies the ministry’s assumption that we don’t know what the hell we’re blurting about. It’s not the end of the world, and even if the blogosphere one day becomes confined to a state-monitored chatroom where you need a licence to ‘talk’, you could always go ‘offline’ and express your thoughts with pen and paper like our grandparents used to do, and get these champions of freedom to help distribute your work to the shackled, brainwashed masses smuggled in bento boxes like they do during the Japanese Occupation. We’ll worry when the government starts licensing the sale of stationery. I’m probably dead by then anyway.

This FMI collective isn’t the first time bloggers have banded together because they didn’t want to look like lone renegade wolves or antisocial Grumpy Cats who sit around and do nothing (But the fact is some of us ARE neurotic introverts and social misfits who’d rather stay out of this politics business and write poems about unrequited love instead). In 2009, ‘East Coast Life’ blogger Jayne Goh founded a non-profit organisation called The Association of Bloggers, driven by her conviction that blogosphere was in an ‘appalling’ state and that its residents were like ‘loose sand’. Its objectives include promoting ‘professionalism’ among the blogger community and ‘fostering identity with credibility’. Within a month, 8 dropped out of the 10-member committee, with ‘disagreements’ cited as reason for the breakup. I also wonder if the $50 entrance fee , the fact that the association was made up of ‘nobodies’, or Jayne declaring herself PRESIDENT and having a love for Elmo had anything to do with it. The President even got herself embroiled in a defamation lawsuit later in 2009 for alleging that a former teacher was sacked for corruption. If you want to be a champion of bloggers, it’s probably a good idea to set an example, stay out of trouble and not be a self-righteous snob about it. Otherwise it’s not a ‘movement’ so much as a vanity project, though it’s quite hard to tell the difference these days.

FMI probably viewed AoB’s disaster as a case study of ‘How NOT to form a blogger coalition’ and took off from there. Famous bloggers? Check. No hierarchical structure? Check. Catchy title?Check.  Free to join? Major CHECK. FMI was no doubt a viral success, but it remains to be seen if it can achieve its desired outcome before a clash of egos gets in the way. The mainstream media sold the protest well, unlike how they described the first Blogger’s Conference in 2005 as a ‘big yawn’. Which just goes to show how bloggers have started to be taken seriously of late, though I dread the day when ANYONE who blogs is automatically labelled as a loudmouthed firebrand with an educated (likely anti-establishment) opinion about government policies (i.e a troublemaker) when all they’re doing is posting photos of their disgruntled cat in various states of indolence or ‘reblogging’ porn for personal enjoyment.

I’d imagine the following job interview taking place if FMI becomes TOO successful for its own good.

Boss: ‘So.. what do you in your free time?’

Me: ‘I blog’


Me: ‘I don’t take part in protests, in case you’re wondering’.

Boss:’So you visit the Online Citizen and TRE often, I suppose?’

Me: ‘No, I just write my thoughts about what’s happening in the country’

Boss: ‘Like politics?’

Me: ‘Did I say I write about my Thoughts? Erm..sorry I meant I post pictures of food. It’s a food blog. I love food. It’s great!’

FMI ended with the organisers belting out ‘Stand by Me’ when I was expecting something more akin to Nine Inch Nails to suit the black shirt theme. If the government ever had an emergency conference to discuss how to address the blogger uprising, they’d probably close it with another evergreen classic. All together now!


MDA CEO buying $10 million Corals condo

From ‘2 Corals at Keppel Bay units sold for over $10m each’, 30 May 2013, article by Melissa Tan, ST Money

DESPITE flat demand in the luxury market so far this year, at least two condominium units with a price tag of over $10 million each were sold over the past fortnight. Keppel Land told the Singapore Exchange on Tuesday that family members of Mrs Koh-Lim Wen Gin, a former Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) chief planner, bought the units at its upcoming project Corals at Keppel Bay. Mrs Koh has been an independent director of Keppel Land since January 2010.

One of the buyers is her daughter, Ms Koh Lin-Net, the chief executive of the Media Development Authority. Ms Koh took office last November and prior to that was deputy secretary of trade at the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Ms Koh and her husband Lawrence Low bought a 3,477 sq ft four-bedder at Corals for slightly below $10.1 million, which works out to around $2,901 per sq ft for the second-floor unit. The option to purchase is dated May 19.

There’s nothing wrong with stat board senior management buying expensive property, of course. What’s interesting about this piece of news is the sheer timing of it and how surprisingly informative it is, in light of MDA’s licensing scheme which requires news sites to fork out $50k performance bonds. That’s $500k in total for 10 websites, just enough for a 4-room HDB flat (but not a condo). While there are angry bloggers out there complaining about MDA’s rules and how it would impede internet freedom via the #FreeMyInternet movement, it’s ironic how it’s in fact the mainstream media itself which leaked the possibility that the MDA CEO is a multi-millionaire, though the article was tucked quietly in the ‘Money’ section. With such earning power, I’m surprised they didn’t do a better job with the Senior Management rap some years back, like hiring Jay-Z to write and produce it. It could have been called ‘Empire State of MDA’.

According to the Online Citizen, ‘the BLOGGING community – COLLECTIVELY called #FreeMyInternet’, will be organising a protest at Hong Lim Park and an online ‘blackout’ for 24 hours on 8 June where you’re supposed to blanket your website in darkness and make Malaysian protesters wonder if they’re missing out on something.  Not ALL bloggers or netizens feel that strongly nor are they pissing their pants about this imminent threat of Internet Panopticon Armageddon, so I’m not sure why TOC decided to drag the whole blogosphere into it. Unless, of course, I’m not considered part of that ‘community’ but merely a fringe keyboard radical who needs to post tasteful homemade erotica pictures in order to generate enough hits to qualify for MDA licensing. Mr Brown has become a part of it, naturally. With his musical talent, the #FreeMyInternet cause could at least turn from shouty media activism to funding poor families without Internet and even climb the pop charts like Band Aid’s ‘Do they Know It’s Christmas’ in the event that the outdoor protest or blackout fails. I’m actually hoping for that song to happen nonetheless *fingers crossed*.

I would support #FreetheWorld, #FreetheAnimals, #FreeMyCPF and #FreeBreakfastDay but I’m not sure if our Internet desperately needs ‘freeing’ like how one needs to emancipate a tortured slave. It’s not like I have to key in my Singpass whenever I google ‘How to Create a Homemade Landmine’ (A #FreeMyInternet supporter would whisper in a gloomy tone with slow wagging finger ‘Not yet…’). It doesn’t seem that urgent for a nobody in the ‘community’ like myself to waste a good weekend protesting when I could be at the World Street Food Festival eating instead, and even if I DID go there and toss some slogans about, I would STILL get lawyers’  letters accusing me of defamation if I blogged drunk, with or without MDA’s crappy rules.

But just to show how ‘free’ the internet already is as we speak, I did some online background checks on CEO Koh Lin-Net for the benefit of anyone thinking of signing the petition because they’re concerned that there will come a day when everytime they open a browser, they’re instantly redirected to a mandatory login homepage with the PAP/MDA logo on it and some ominous marching music in the background which you’re forced to listen to for 20 seconds before you can do anything. Like those Youtube ads.

Koh, an alumni of CHIJ St Nicholas, confessed to ‘skipping classes’ and helping smuggle BEER into school while in Hwa Chong JC. She was also formerly a member of the Computer Club, a head prefect, and Deputy Secretary (Trade) of MTI. We also know that just before she took over the reins at MDA, Deputy CEO Michael Yap unexpectedly resigned for reasons unknown. An IT guy and adjunct professor of Engineering, Yap was the ‘key driver’ behind the SingaporeONE initiative which made our country the FIRST in the WORLD to have national broadband access. He also spoke at a TEDxUSC conference in 2010 and strikes me as the progressive, visionary tech-evangelist type. Reminds me of super-pastor Kong Hee too. In the MDA rap video he’s the one in the hip-hop garb and slickest moves. This is one officer who put the ‘Development’ in MDA, unlike what’s happening now, whereby the title ‘Media Restriction and Sanitation Authority’ would be more appropriate. Or MRSA (snigger away med nerds!)

For someone who spent $10 million on an apartment, Koh is well versed of the impermanence of material possessions. In a 2007 review of Herman Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’, she says:

Now that I’m the midst of the journey, I think it’s a good reminder not to get caught up in material things; that material things at the end of the day will not help fulfill you.

Lee Wei Ling would concur. Such insight really explains buying a humble Corals unit then. She could afford a $300 million house for all you know.

Malaysians protesting at Merlion Park

From ’21 Malaysians arrested at protest’, 12 May 2013, article by Amelia Tan, Sunday Times

Twenty-one Malaysians were arrested yesterday for staging a protest at the Merlion Park against the outcome of last Sunday’s Malaysian general election. The rare police action followed earlier warnings that such gatherings are illegal, and after nine Malaysians were warned for participating in a similar protest last Wednesday.

In a statement last night, the police said that “while foreigners are allowed to work or live here, they have to abide by our laws”. “They should not import their domestic issues from their countries into Singapore and conduct activities which can disturb public order, as there can be groups with opposing views. Those who break the law will be seriously dealt with.”

….Last week, the police warned nine Malaysians for “actively participating” in an illegal gathering at Merlion Park on Wednesday, when about 100 people went to protest against the Malaysian election results.

…Separately, the police also reminded migrant worker rights activist Jolovan Wham of his responsibilities as organiser of a Speakers’ Corner demonstration today, also related to the Malaysian general election. He has been told to take appropriate measures to ensure that the event complies with Singapore laws. The police said they were informed that Mr Wham had posted on Facebook that he was organising the demonstration to show solidarity with Malaysians calling for fair elections and that “he had invited foreigners to observe the event“.

“The Speakers’ Corner is a designated site for Singaporeans to freely speak on issues as long as they do not touch on matters which relate to religion or may cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different racial or religious groups in Singapore. Only Singaporeans and permanent residents of Singapore are allowed to participate in demonstrations held at the Speakers’ Corner,” the police spokesman said.

The terms and conditions of the use of Speakers’ Corner is ambiguous on what constitutes a ‘demonstration’, or if you may be just an ‘observer’ and not a ‘participant’ in the event. In 2001, when public demos were banned from Hong Lim Park, the police described such activities as coming together for a ‘specific cause’, ‘chanting slogans’, ‘displaying placards’ and showing gesticulations such as ‘CLENCHING OF FISTS’. I’m not sure if clapping furiously and going ‘Hear, hear’ in response to a rousing speech constitutes participation, but standing from a distance and folding your arms with an expressionless face may have protesters suspecting that you’re a plainclothes police officer instead of a supporter or observer. You may even get crowd-surfed involuntarily if things get out of hand.

The earlier Merlion Park protest had special appearances from two Mediacorp actors, namely Zhang Yaodong and Shaun Chen, who in the image below, are clearly seen ‘participating’ in an illegal activity. Not sure if it’s stated anywhere in their Mediacorp contract if celebrities (and role models to our ‘impressionable youth’) are allowed to engage in political protests. They may inadvertently get innocent bystanders into serious trouble if screaming fans at the scene who have no idea what ‘Ubah’ or ‘Bersih’ are all about get rounded up by the cops for disrupting public order. You may, however, be part of a campaign to ban shark’s fin soup, though that may upset more people than your political beliefs.

Careful, almost a clenched fist there!

It’s not the first time that our Merlion has seen gatherings of this sort. In 2011, a petition for an SMTown Kpop concert was held in the form of a flash mob. Not sure if a police permit was applied for in this case but amazingly (also unfortunately), it turned out to be successful. These kids with their sick dance moves and placards look dead menacing. Slogans on A4 paper? Amateurs. If you want to get something out of your protesting, choreograph a mass-dance, dammit!

Thanks a lot too, Singa the courtesy lion, for giving Malaysian activists ideas for a venue.

There are other ways to show solidarity for a political cause if you’re a foreigner. You could blackout your Facebook profile for a couple of days before reverting it to a pic of your baby. If you’re a Myanmese you could join fellow countrymen to book entire theatres and watch Rambo viciously gun down junta villains (with permission from the authorities of course). You could even have a sit-down dinner in a nice restaurant with face-paint, sing patriotic songs in unison and get nothing more than dirty looks from diners without having a ring of police surrounding you like a phalanx in a Roman army ready to charge a castle.

Screengrab From Martyn See's 'Speakers Cornered'

Screengrab From Martyn See’s ‘Speakers Cornered’

But if you insist on venting your frustrations on crappy governments outdoors, you could do it ‘picnic’ style, like the Bersih 2.0 get-together in 2011 at Speaker’s Corner, where instead of slogans you could hand out yellow roses as a nod to the days of ‘Flower Power’. Just make sure you keep your friendly neighbourhood Police in the loop so they can send their stakeout/riot police team to defuse an ugly situation in the event you start marching around with burning stakes, flipping cars over and then torching them. Singaporean protesters can do without such police permits having been cowed into submission over generations. It’s the foreigners with their campaigns and balls who’re viewed as potential threats (But our government welcomes them with open arms anyway). I mean just look at them, dressed in matching black garb and holding up what looks suspiciously like secret society code numbers.  My God, our riot police have their work cut out for them!

The 8 is upside down. Maybe that symbolises something. Hmm.

Maybe it’s time we drop the name ‘Speakers’ Corner’ and just call it Hong Lim Park instead, since nobody goes there just to ‘speak’ anymore without some fist-pumping or incitement going on. Maybe we should have a demo at Speaker’s Corner to protest against the name ‘Speaker’s corner’. We could sit in unwashed, loving huddles, have a feast of organic tofu and sway holding hands to a live ukelele rendition of ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear some Flowers in your Hair)’.

Here’s a sample of events which render the title invalid and outdated:

Pink dot (2009)

Give Vuikong a Chance (a petition signing event, 2010)


Slutwalk  (2011)

M Ravi dancing (for no one) (2012)

And of course, a recent May Day event about some white paper. Wonder what’s all that fuss about.

Woman with ‘unsound mind’ protesting on Crawford Bridge

From ‘Woman arrested for protesting on top of bridge near ICA building’, 24 March 2012, article in

Carrying a poster, a woman climbed to the top of an arch on Crawford Bridge near the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore (ICA) Building at Lavender on Friday at about 5pm. She was arrested in what looked like a protest, reported The Straits Times.

The 59-year-old Chinese female was seen wearing a cape-like attire – which looked like a Hong Kong flag – and seen waving a poster from time to time. The handmade poster she carried had Chinese characters written on it complaining of authoritarianism. According to ST, she also claimed to be royalty and said that she had been mistreated.

…The intent of the dangerous act remains unclear, but she is believed to be of unsound mind.

The most exciting and unintentionally funny scene from the video clip above is when an SCDF officer crept up from the other side of the arch and scampered stealthily downslope to restrain the protester. An awkward venue to protest, no doubt, but anyone with the audacity to walk around town with signage dressed like a superhero is asking for all sorts of trouble.

Threatening to fall to your death is just one of the many ways to get your voice heard as a lone protester. You could also hang around government buildings with banners and T-shirts, march and chant, or if you’re ballsy enough, to embark on the ever popular hunger strike. Here then, is a history of eccentric, wacky, severe one-man/woman stagings in a protest-intolerant Singapore. Not all of them involve Dr Chee Soon Juan:

No to Junta at the Istana, 2007

  • Just earlier this year, a Chinese national mounted seven storeys of scaffolding to threaten suicide if he was not paid $15,000 in compensation money. He was charged for trespassing and jailed 10 weeks. AFTER being paid $12,000.
  • 2011:  One former expat had to bring his displeasure with the PM and Singapore in general overseas (Times Square in NYC to be exact),  just so he wouldn’t get caught. His whereabouts remains unknown till this day.
  • In 2010, a PETA man in a chicken suit was detained before he could launch a solitary anti-KFC protest at an outlet here. His bags and chicken costume were also confiscated, for God knows what ever reason.

Auditioning for the live movie adaptation of Chicken Little

  • 2007: Artist Seelan Pillay staged a lone 5 day hunger strike near the front gate of the Malaysian High Commission to protest the detention of Malaysian Hindu rights activists. Which is admirable considering that a Singaporean going on hunger strike is like a fish beaching itself on a desert island. Oh, and he had a sign hung around his neck too.
  • 2006: A PETA activist in a BEAR-costume to protest against the bearskin hats worn by Buckingham Palace guards was detained outside the Istana during the Queen’s visit. It was not reported if her costume was confiscated.
  • 2005: A PRC and Falungung member Cheng Lujun embarked on a hunger strike while in prison to protest against unfair treatment and arrest. Fellow Falungung and Singaporean woman Ng Chye Huay followed suit after being charged for distributing flyers at the Esplanade.
  • 2002: JBJ submitted a ‘birthday request’ to the Police to grant a protest march to ‘Say No to GST.’ He was 77 then. Alas, the authorities would not grant the old man his wish.
  • 1956: a certain Mr Maurice S Lee waged a ‘one-man war’ against the Traffic Police after being summoned for illegal parking, complaining about the ‘upside down’ manner in which parking offenders are prosecuted while reckless drivers, jaywalkers and other dangerous road users get off scot-free.

A few lessons to be learnt here if you want to be an effective lone demonstrator in Singapore so that you would have at least 5 minutes of showtime and become immortalised on Youtube before the police get their hands on you: Don’t ever dress up as a mascot. Choose a spot where SCDF personnel can only stare helplessly at you, but at a sufficient distance such that your message to the world may still be read and you wouldn’t die if you fell. And make sure you have your doctor’s prescription for lithium on you at all times.

Singaporeans are less peeved at work than Indians

From ‘S’pore No. 2 in peeves tally’, 30 Sept 2011, article by Jennani Durai, ST

…Singapore has come in second in a survey of 16 countries tallying the number of pet peeves in the office. In the No. 1 spot was India, according to the findings released yesterday by professional networking site LinkedIn.

The 17,000 survey participants – nearly 1,000 were from Singapore – were given a list of 38 possible pet peeves in the office and told to select all that applied to them. Only one peeve listed – overachievers pandering to the boss – had to do with management.

The peeves ranged from the general, such as loud typing and office pranks, to the specific, from hitting ‘reply all’ on mass office e-mail messages to not reloading a printer when it ran out of paper. Singaporeans’ top annoyance: people not taking ownership for their actions. It was also the No. 1 annoyance picked by 78 per cent of the 17,000 respondents.

Rounding up Singaporeans’ top three gripes were dirty common areas – such as shared microwave ovens or refrigerators – and constant complainers.

…There were also gender differences in the findings. For example, 57 per cent of Singaporean women were bothered by ‘clothing that’s too revealing for the workplace’. But only 29 per cent of Singaporean men surveyed found that to be a problem.

Japanese offices don't celebrate April Fool's

Despite the ubiquitousness of office nuisances, a few interesting  cross-cultural observations can be inferred here: Swedish males have the best office jobs in the world, Americans really make themselves at home in office pantries, Indian workers don’t set their mobile phones on silent mode and you can get demoted in Japan for so much as spamming your boss with email jokes.

‘Taking ownership’ is a relatively recent form of corporate-speak which, in the local context at least, usually refers to the act of taking charge of a certain project or task, people who are the ‘go-to’ guys, or in local parlance ‘champions’, for a specific set of skills or experience, but constantly fail to live up to the position entrusted upon them, either shirking responsibility, delegating others to perform odious tasks, or making excuses to dilly-dally. This, to me, isn’t merely a PEEVE, rather a PESTILENCE. These are toxic colleagues who bring down the morale of the whole team, and are often a hot topic of discussion among culprits of the no 2. pet peeve: Constant complainers. Lazy or irresponsible workers/leaders are a social and occupational hazard in any office, not a trifling annoyance along the line of loud typers or mothers who mollycoddle their kids over the phone. The worst sort of colleagues are really those who are an insufferable combination of the two major peeves of ‘laziness’ and ‘sycophant i.e bosses’ favourite’.

Here’s my own list of office peeves:

1. People who print hundreds of copies of documents while you’re waiting in queue just to print one.

2. People who short-form Best Regards to BR in email

3. Complicated phone handling instructions (call forwarding, recording voice message, retrieving voice mail)

4. Having to change passwords every 60 days

5. Having to correct your bosses’ horrible grammar

6. People who interrupt when you’re having a face to face conversation

7. Track changes in Word documents

8. People who use FYAP, FYIA, or any ‘For Your’ acronyms extending beyond four letters. FYIWTFS (FYI, WTF, seriously)

9. People who ask you to resend them emails because they can’t be bothered to archive their inbox or even think of  search tags

10. Horrible laughter

11. Email trails longer than a script for a short film.

12. A birthday card from the CEO with your name spelled wrong

A similar survey was conducted 4 years ago by Mediacorp’s Media Research Consultants in 2007.

The street poll, conducted at office hotspots Raffles Place, Suntec City and the Orchard Road belt, netted responses from 306 people: 150 comprised males, 113 were below 30 years old and 156 were aged 30 to 49.

Apart from loud talkers, another two top pet peeves were gossiping and people trying to avoid work. In fourth and fifth positions were people peering over one’s shoulder to read what was on one’s monitor, and public reprimands at work, respectively.

Perhaps the advent of instant messaging led to the decline of loud talking or gossiping as pet peeves, with most bitching happening online, though at the risk of not just background surveillance, but people ‘peering over your shoulder’. Such busybody-ness was common even in the desktop-less late eighties when people actually WROTE. Using a PEN. On PAPER.  And people faxed proper acknowledgment forms, signed and dated instead of replying ‘OK’ or ‘Approved’ through email. Lazy workers or bosses rank among the top scourges till this day,  a bane of any results-driven office culture, and HR departments everywhere need to take a long hard look at the survey results because of the number of genuine workers suffering under endorsed incompetence. Someone also needs to conduct a study on how sexy clothing affects work productivity (in particular absentee rate among men) before being judged by envious women as a peeve when it’s really, in light of all other disruptive peeves and provided it’s done in a tasteful manner, more of a pleasant distraction, some might even say motivation, than anything else.

Khaw Boon Wan: No trees, no human species

From ‘Meeting the people 24/7…online’, 26 June 2011, article by Irene Tham and Fiona Low, Sunday Times

(From comments on various ministers’ Facebook pages)

(June 12 at 2.05pm) Lee Kok Keong: I think NParks is doing a great job. Unlike most other cities, we get to enjoy greenery around us. We probably take the trees for granted. As the weather is getting warmer, perhaps we can have more shady trees along expressways and major roads – they keep us cool and maybe drivers won’t be so impatient.

(June 12 at 2.09pm) Khaw Boon Wan: yes, Kok Keong, and thanks. trees literally give us life. no trees, no oxygen, no human species.

(June 12 at 2.09pm) Xinhui Su: erm…can you don’t make the cats run when they so (sic) someone? i want to touch them

(June 12 at 2.17pm) K. Shanmugam: afraid I don’t have such powers!

(June 16 at 1.56pm) Cheah Saing Chong: Dear Mr Chan, in the event of a conflict, are you prepared to lay your life for this country and its people? Please answer this question? If yes, why? If no, why?

(June 16 at 4.02pm) Chan Chun Sing: @Cheah – The answer to your qn if I will lay down my life for this country is YES. I have committed my whole life to this. Why? Because it is my country, our country. No further reason is required for me.

I don’t know why our ministers are wasting precious time answering lame questions from the public on Facebook. Less cars, not more trees, is the answer to more gracious driving. Asking a minister and former army general if he’s willing to die for the country is a no-brainer, and kids who think ministers can communicate telepathically with stray cats,  mistaking a Facebook feedback page for Farmville, should have their accounts terminated. So now we have our Minister of National Development giving us a science lesson on trees producing oxygen, amidst more pressing matters on DBSS prices. It’s easy to sugarcoat this phenomenon as our ministers getting in touch with the common people, but this is also a system waiting to be abused, with people bypassing the ‘proper channels’ just to pressure the relevant authorities to do something, even if its a ridiculously tall order. If you need further convincing as to why entertaining Facebook comments is an utter waste of time, here’s more:

…Hi Mr Khaw, is Bishan Park under NParks too? They recently put the “BISHAN PARK” signs up at the edge of the park. It looks like it has sharp edges and is made of metal? It happens to be on the down slope. If some cyclists or roller-bladers were to trip there, I am afraid there may be casualties. It is extremely dangerous. Where should I send my feedback to and how can I be sure that this will be looked into?

…Dear Sir, I have been using a clothes dryer instead of hanging my clothes out to dry. If only we can tap in solar energy to operate these machine and need not pay more for electricity, that would be fabulous 😀

…Also, when it rains, at the first storey, the rain will splash into the flat and we need to close the windows, making the flat stuffy. Can a canopy be built at the top the flat to prevent the rain from splashing into the flat?

One could have good, sensible intentions in complaining, but to torment Khaw Boon Wan with atrocious language is too much . Not only does he have to think of how to help you, but also struggle to figure out what you’re saying in the first place. Singaporeans who don’t bother to spellcheck ‘Singaporean’ properly when addressing a minister should be ignored and banned from all NDPs. And therein lies the problem with social media feedback; you’re typing on the go, you have no respect for grammar and naturally your query turns out to be as haphazard as your caps placement and punctuation.

Yang Berhormat Mr Khaw, i be singaporean 1 year+ and yet single couldn’t enjoy HDB benefit like sinagaporean have. Is not I want be single why singale not entire to buy house frm goverment ? I also your city resident, why I couldn’t have …oppurtunity to have HDB form goverment ?I just want house to stay and have warmest filling. Recently Resale flat still very expensive . Normal 3 room flat cost about 300K . I try to search 2 room flat but to easy to find. Cound you help to improve on it ?

The problem with social media is that the cost of sending a request and making a fool of yourself is minimal. Your Facebook friends are unlikely to know what you’ve posted unless they stalk your newsfeed on a daily basis, there isn’t a proper ‘reputation’ system where people can rate your query, and there’s no moderator to kick out trollers or shame useless comments about ‘warmest fillings’. You could even fake your identity if you’re afraid of being hauled to court for verbally abusing a minister. To write a proper letter like what we used to do, without the security of aliases, would have led to more thoughtful and intelligent feedback. Mr Khaw’s eagerness to respond and good nature will only encourage more of the same nonsense coming out of these people, and unless someone takes the first step to highlight how ridiculous some of these complaints are, we’ll have minister after minister using the ‘Shanmugam defence (I don’t have such powers) every time something silly is posted.

Everything is the government’s fault

From ‘MP:People blame gov for all their problems’, 12 June 2011, article in translated from LWZB

Tampines GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Baey Yam Keng was interviewed by Lianhe Wanbao about a post on his Facebook page last week:

“79 MPS cases tonight. Had to spend a bit of time to explain to some residents who seem to link every misfortune to the government.”

In the interview, Baey tells of a phenomenon where residents seem to blame the government for all kinds of problems. He sees several such cases at his Meet the People Session (MPS) every week.

Baey shared an example where a resident blamed the government when his utility bills were higher than usual. The resident had insisted that his lifestyle is the same as before, therefore the higher bills must be the fault of the government.

Baey had asked the resident whether he was sure there was no increase in his usage of electricity and water, and suggested the possibility of a faulty utilities-meter. The resident eventually accepted Baey’s explanation.

Separately, Baey also talked about a resident who blamed the government for high repair costs to his car, but clarified that most residents still approach their MP for pressing issues.

Here is my personal wishlist for the next Meet the People’s session in my estate: Have soundproof void decks so I won’t have skateboarders disturbing me with their noisy antics in the evenings.   How about a mini shuttle bus to ferry me to the nearest MRT every morning from outside my block? Or complain that I could smell my neighbour’s slippers in the corridor from inside my flat. But seriously, as much as we want to make full use of our highly paid MPs, we can’t rely on them to solve every single woe or neighbourly spat that we, as mature individuals, could jolly well handle it ourselves. People making inane grouses at these MPS are just taking up our MPs’ precious time when they could be attending to more serious, less selfish, problems. These people are negotiators and leaders, they’re not lawyers, counselors, priests or psychotherapists there to give free consultations. As a young MP, Mr Baey probably feels obligated to entertain everyone, but a hardened politician who knows how to screen the wheat from the chaff should be confident enough to know when enough is enough, and tell people with ridiculous requests, and there will be many, to just ‘move along’.

The first MPS were initiated by Chief Minister David Marshall in the mid fifties, and even then, he knew when his time was being wasted. (See below ‘You waste my time, I’ll waste yours’, 22 May 1955, ST). Today MPs are so afraid of losing a single vote from residents with unrealistic, petty demands that it obscures the bigger picture. Perhaps Mr Baey could learn a thing or two from this man.